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What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

The coronavirus pandemic has monopolized much of the world's attention for months now, but the conflicts and crises plaguing some of the most vulnerable countries have not stopped. In some cases they have only gotten worse. Here's a look at what's been happening in some of the world's most intractable hotspots in the months since the COVID-19 crisis took center stage.

Venezuela turns to Iran: For several years Venezuela has been mired in one of the world's worst economic crises, which has made access to food and medication extremely difficult for ordinary Venezuelans. President Nicolas Maduro seems to have weathered the challenge to his political power, but the economy is another story. The country's crucial oil sector, already gutted by US sanctions and mismanagement, has taken a further hit in recent months as the pandemic sent the global economy into a tailspin. As a result, even as coronavirus clobbers Latin America, many Venezuelans have expressed greater fear of dying from starvation than of contracting COVID-19. It doesn't help that the country is now running out of gas – and fast. Workers are waiting in long lines to fill up their tanks, while fuel shortages are preventing sick people from accessing medical care. This week, Maduro turned to another US-designated pariah for help: Iran. The Islamic Republic obliged by sending five oil tankers carrying an estimated 60 million gallons of gas across the Atlantic, a move Maduro hailed as a "victory."

Yemen's civil war grinds on: Last month, a temporary ceasefire between the two warring sides – Saudi-backed official government forces and Houthi rebels backed by Iran – raised hopes that Yemen's five-year war might be nearing its end. The truce had been backed by the Saudis, in what some analysts said was a sign that that the kingdom wanted an out: Oil prices are less than half what they were a year ago and the coronavirus is having a big impact on the kingdom's economy. Meanwhile, Riyadh's involvement in "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" was complicating its ties with Washington. (Congressional Democrats and Republicans tried several times to block arms sales to the Saudis over their involvement in Yemen, but the move was blocked by the White House.) Hours after the UN-backed truce came into effect, Houthi forces continued their drive to capture oil-rich Marib province. Since then, the fighting has only gotten worse, with the Saudis launching some 190 retaliatory air raids in recent weeks, according to the Yemen Data Project. So far, repeated appeals from the UN to halt fighting as several COVID-19 clusters have been identified around the country, have been ignored, despite the fact that Yemen has little hospital capacity to deal with an epidemic.

South Sudan's fragile peace: After six years of civil war that displaced some 4.5 million people, sparking Africa's largest refugee crisis, the nine-year old country of South Sudan has experienced relative calm in recent months owing to a unity-deal that brought rebel leaders into the government led by President Saalva Kiir. But sporadic violence between rival ethnic communities has continued in eastern Jonglei state, prompting fears that conflict could spill over into the rest of the country. In the first quarter of 2020, inter-communal violence killed some 658 civilians, while looting, mass rape and abductions have continued unabated, the UN says. These inter-communal clashes have been getting worse in recent years as fighters gained access to assault weapons. Now the fate of the recent unity deal hangs in the balance in a country where some 7.5 million people rely on some form of aid to survive.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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